Housing Complex

Council Passes Living Wage Bill on Final Vote, Defying Walmart Threat

The D.C. Council passed its contentious living wage bill by an 8-5 vote this afternoon, reaffirming its initial vote by the same margin last month and defying Walmart's threats that the store will cancel plans for half of its D.C. stores if the bill becomes law.

If signed by Mayor Vince Gray, the Large Retailer Accountability Act of 2013 would require retailers in excess of 75,000 square feet with parent companies grossing at least $1 billion per year to pay a living wage of $12.50 an hour, minus benefits—with an exemption for companies with collective bargaining agreements.

The bill became more contentious yesterday when Walmart announced it would pull out of three of its six planned stores in the District and reconsider the others if the bill is enacted. That announcement led Gray to issue a statement "urg[ing] the Council to consider whether this legislation will actually promote strong economic development in the District and expand job opportunities for District residents."

Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander said before the vote that the loss of two Walmart stores in her ward was her "worst nightmare" and reiterated her opposition to the bill. But other councilmembers decried Walmart's threat to withdraw. "You’re not gonna put a gun to my head," said At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange, urging his councilmembers to "stay strong" and support the measure. Orange suggested that if Walmart pulls out of its New York Avenue NE location, the city could put a sound stage or amusement park in its place.

"I don’t believe Walmart at this point, that they’re gonna leave the District," said Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry. "That’s a stickup. And we’re not gonna be stuck up."

Even Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, who voted against the bill both times, expressed her disappointment in Walmart's threat. "Their behavior, their playing hardball and threatening to pull out and all of that, that almost drove me to a different vote, because I don’t like being threatened," she said.

But Gray's skepticism toward the bill—and his support of the Skyland Town Center project, where he insisted Walmart set up a store and where Walmart's threatening to leave—could signal a veto of the measure. Overriding a veto would require nine votes; today's vote indicates the Council would fall short of that total.

At-Large Councilmember David Catania, who voted against the measure, introduced an amendment to delay the implementation of the law and exempt stores that had certificates of occupancy before July 2014. Catania said he would support the overall bill and provide a veto-proof majority if his amendment was adopted, but it failed on a 10-3 vote.

Update 5:18 p.m.: Walmart spokesman Steven Restivo says in a statement that Walmart stands by its pledge not to open three of its stores if the bill becomes law. "Nothing has changed from our perspective: we will not pursue Skyland, Capitol Gateway, and New York Avenue and will start to review the financial and legal implications on the three stores already under construction," he says. "This was a difficult decision for us—and unfortunate news for most D.C. residents—but the Council has forced our hand."

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • jake

    great. now all those dc hoodrats from SE will keep coming over to the nice target in Potomac Yards. damn you dc! keep yo peeps there!

  • Okeydokey

    As anticipated, Gray will fold like a cheap lawn chair. He has to. It was his blackmail of Walmart that got the Skyland Walmart on the books.

    Walmart is laughing their azz off. The got to build the stores they wanted, and get to nix the ones they didn't, AND they get to blame it on Gray, the guy who blackmailed them in the first place!

    You really have to wonder about the "felon" Council. The Ward two of the others were going to be built in has 25% unemployment rate and is literally the worst ghetto north of some sections of New Orleans. They desperately needed the ~900 basic labor jobs that these folks are qualified for.

  • http://ninjamonkey3000.blogspot.com/ mighty

    NICE & TARGET?? never before said

  • People of DC

    "Jake", why don't you keep your mouth shut and focus on issues in your own state. Your racist comments are ignorant and unnecessary.

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  • NW Dave

    Here comes the veto...

  • DCRob

    Good move. Now Walmart will pull out and those sites are already prepared for a retailer who will pay those wages to step in. Any ideas who that might be?

  • jake

    @people of dc-its not that I don't enjoy sheniqua and her 8 kids running amok in target-and yes, it's a 'nice' target-I just think i'd enjoy it more without them. a walmart in their hood seems like something that would benefit all involved. my safety, security and not having to hear someone shout names I can't spell, merged with the convenience for her and the pack would be win-win. but I agree with okeydokey that this was screwed from the get go. and don't call me racist...my maid is African-American.

  • Bac

    Six or seven Walmarts were way too many. I hope Gray doesn't veto. Seems our council has some guts afterall.

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  • Rob

    let's hear more from "jake," a racist baby who apparently fears for his safety in the presence of a woman and children on a shopping trip.

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  • BMF

    How many jobs did the DC council just cost the city? How much income tax revenue? How much sales tax revenue? How much bag tax revenue? Etc...etc...etc... They continue to bite off their hand. Is it a surprise? No. Marion Barry is still on the council! What a joke!

    BTW, I got a laugh out of Jake's comments...

  • Brahmin

    There is a mix of you on here. Some who clearly understand this means no Walmart but want the living wage bill. I do believe they may pull out of the committed three stores just because of how this appears to them as a bait and switch.

    This also may poison the well fo other stores who may just believe you cant believe anything DC development says if they courted Walmart only to later stick it to them why would I make the investment when I know DC residents will go to the burbs for everything. But we will see.

  • CapitalTruck

    I think the council did the right thing. Six stores was insane anyway. People are streaming into D.C. right now WITHOUT a single Wal-Mart. We'll get on just fine without them. Six was WAY too many! What sort of insanity was that? I think Grey is going to be in a tight spot because the green backs have been sliding all over the place and now this. All the kickbacks and everything else just went amok. Hopefully somebody on the council will step up to make it veto-proof. I don't understand why everybody is so wet for these crappy stores anyway. They have killed off American jobs and they sell nothing but garbage. I can make the short trip to Alexandria or Landover if I need Wal-Mart garbage. In the meantime I'll do just fine at Annie's Ace Hardware on Upshur and Georgia. People do know that they were going to put a store on at South Dakota and Riggs NE, Georgia and Missouri NE, and New York Ave. and Bladensburg Rd. NE. Ridiculous. Simply ridiculous. I'm telling you, there's kickbacks in here somewhere.

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  • s.p.

    how about costco?

  • Brahmin

    #CapitalTruck that is the problem. On the weekend you can go to a MD or VA parking lot and you can count the plethora of DC tag. I have seen a few council tags there as well. It has been said on this board but it hold true DC is under-retail for a city of its size. Read the economic reports and it says the same thing. Six Walmart would only be a drop in the bucket for the retail mix and options needed to provide DC with the full services it needs and residents say they want.

    When you and other DC residents go outside for groceries, movies, retail you take your money and tax dollars with you. The Council keeps comparing this to NYC. It takes work to leave NYC and come back as a resident. No one has the habit of dipping into Connectiicut for a movie or running to NJ for Best Buy on a regular basis. That is not the case here In DC, VA and MD are only a bus ride away, and when you talk to residents their habits includes regular trips to these two places for retail. Yes as a government that is a problem.

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  • http://strassgefuhl.wordpress.com J.D. Hammond

    Yes, how about Costco? Exactly how about expecting the working poor to shell out $100 up-front for the privilege of looking for huge quantities of groceries that might or might not be for sale, and that the shopper doesn't have room for? Especially when they don't even make what Walmart's lowball wages would pay?

    Ah, the windshield perspective of white people who already have their Whole Foods and don't understand why a single mother doesn't just cook more beans and rice.

  • Alan

    And Marion Barry is right on the money with this one.

  • Richard

    Unfortunately this became a debate about Wal Mart. This is much more than that. It tells the entire business community that you may not receive fair treatment in the District. Just a month ago this included all retail, hotels and banks. Currently this directly affects, just to name a few, Costco, Home Debot, Macy's, Neimans, Lowes, Target, and Wegmans. Is it curious who the true winners are, Giant and Safeway. They get to continue to pay below the new $12.50 and stop their competitors from coming into the district. The consumer only wins when there is fair competition, and retailers only improve when they are faced with this completion. If we want to talk about Living Wage, which I believe is a legitment discussion, lets be fair and broad. I grwe up in DC and don't want to go back to the days where Giant and Safeway were my only choices and they controlled over 80% of every grocery sale. The neighborhoods who are struggling are the true losers, they will have to spend more money and time to travel for work and goods. This will keep quality jobs and tax revenue out of the city and encourage companies to line up outside the DC boundaries. Mr Mayor-we need a grown up to veto this bad bill and open up a true discussion about fair wages!

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